A technique has been developed that could revolutionise the treatment of brain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases by temporarily allowing drugs and other substances to cross the blood brain barrier. A trial in four women whose breast cancer had spread to the brain showed that magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) could safely deliver the antibody therapy Herceptin into their brain tissue, causing the tumours to shrink.
MRgFUS uses focused ultrasound (sound waves) to open the blood brain barrier in specific regions by causing microscopic bubbles of contrast agent that have been injected into the patient to oscillate. These oscillations pull apart the cells of the blood brain barrier, allowing substances that usually struggle to penetrate the brain to pass through.
Consultant neurosurgeon at our Imperial College London research centre Kevin O’Neill was asked to comment on this news by The Guardian and said “Many therapies that are coming through for brain cancer need a delivery system that not only packages and protects them but directs them to the correct area. Injecting them into the brain is one way, but this approach would be better because it is effectively non-invasive. You are kind of opening a portal in the blood brain barrier at the desired site. It’s a step forward to opening the door to other therapies.”
The research, which took place in Canada and is published in Science Translational Medicine, showed that the drug was successfully delivered and, importantly, none of the patients experienced any serious adverse effects. Further imaging suggested their blood-brain barriers resealed after 24 hours.